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Zimbabwe Economic Crisis Wipes Out Forests

Zimbabwe's forests are being destroyed at the rate of 400,000 hectares a year because of crippling power shortages. This is just the latest statistic on the ever-deepening economic crisis, which has seen unprecedented numbers of Zimbabweans fleeing across the border to South Africa. Peta Thornycroft has more for VOA.

The state-controlled Herald Newspaper has quoted Abednigo Marufu, senior official from the state's Forestry Commission on the deforestation of Zimbabwe. He told that Herald, "We are losing forests at an appalling rate."

People have turned to wood for cooking as the electricity supply has become so unreliable.

Electricity is usually unavailable for 15 hours in every 24-hour period. The wheat crop, which depends on power for irrigation failed this season because of the lack of electricity.

The Herald, in an editorial Thursday, said the lack of electricity should be classified as a "national disaster."

Water in many towns and cities is also hard to find. In second city Bulawayo, a dry part of the country, the opposition-controlled municipality is resisting the take over of its water system by the government.

It has almost no water in dams serving the city, and people are going days without water into their homes.

Zimbabwe is in its worst ever economic crisis without enough food to feed its population nor foreign currency to import food. It will need food aid from the United Nations for more than a third of the population before next harvest in April next year.

That harvest is likely to be even worse than the year before.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change's (MDC)agricultural secretary Renson Gasela said there will not be nearly enough fertilizer for the coming summer crops.

Three companies producing essential nutrients for summer crops have closed down in the last week because of lack of electricity, Gasela said this week. He said there will only be 50 percent of fertilizer available for this year's export crops, like tobacco, and food crops, like corn.

Zimbabwe's supermarkets have little food for sale. Neither protein nor carobohydrates are available in most of the urban areas now, according to wholesalers who say they have no products to supply to retail outlets.

As the crisis escalates, President Robert Mugabe's supporters have come out to support him in public. Opposition demonstrations are never allowed in Zimbabwe, but on Wednesday, several hundred veterans of the independence war, marched through central Harare in support of President Mugabe.

The War Veterans Association chairman, Jabulani Sibanda said the march was the first of a series to show support for President Mugabe.

MDC spokesman, Nelson Chamisa questioned why police banned opposition marches, but allowed President Mugabe's supporters freedom to hold demonstrations.

Scores of opposition leaders, including the party's founding president Morgan Tsvangirai and civil rights activists were arrested and assaulted in police custody when they tried to attend a prayer meeting in Harare in March.

President Robert Mugabe says the West is trying to bring about regime change and that Zimbabwe's economic crisis is caused by sanctions. Zimbabwe continues to trade normally with tradition partners, such as the United States and the European Union.

President Mugabe claims the West is punishing him for seizing 90 percent of white-owned farms over the last seven years. Economists say Zimbabwe's fortunes changed when commercial agriculture declined dramatically after the seizure of white-owned farms, most of which are now idle.